We’ve been thinking about how, through faith, we’ve been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms; and we’ve become citizens of heaven; so that heaven is now our true home and we’re only aliens and strangers in the world. And we’re only aliens and strangers in the world, because now we really belong in heaven with Jesus Christ our Saviour. However, even though we regard ourselves as aliens and strangers in the world — living here for the time being, while we wait for the Lord Jesus to come again and bring us at last to our heavenly home — even though we regard ourselves as aliens and strangers in the world, nevertheless while we go on living on the earth, we’re to be the best citizens we can possibly be; and, if we work, we’re to be the best employees we can possibly be; and, if we’re married, we’re to be the best spouses we can possibly be. So, we’re to be the best citizens we can possibly be, submitting ourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority. That was in verses 13 to 17 of chapter 2. And, if we work, we’re to be the best employees we can possibly be, submitting ourselves to our employer with all respect. That was in verses 18 to 25 of chapter 2 where Peter refers to the relationship between slaves and masters which parallels in some ways the relationship between employees and employers today. And, if we’re married, we’re to be the best spouses we can possibly be, so that believing wives will submit to their husbands, and believing husbands will live with their wives in a considerate and understanding way. That was in verses 1 to 7 of chapter 3.
And do you remember? If we’re the best citizens we can possibly be, and if we’re the best employees we can possibly be, and if we’re the best spouses we can possibly be, if we live good lives among our unbelieving neighbours, then they will see our good deeds, and who knows? Who knows? They too might come to glorify God and worship him with us, because they’ve been won over to the faith; and they’ve been attracted to the Saviour by the sheer goodness of our lives which have come to reflect the glory and the goodness of heaven.
As we turn to today’s passage — verses 8 to 12 of chapter 3 — you’ll see that it begins with the word: ‘Finally….’ However, if you look forward, you’ll see that Peter still has lots to say. He’s still got the rest of chapter 3; and then there’s chapter 4; and then there’s chapter 5. He’s still got lots to say. So, when he says ‘finally’ in verse 8 of chapter 3, he really means ‘in summary’ or ‘to conclude what I’ve just been saying about living good lives among your unbelieving neighbours’. He’s about to summarise, or to round off, this part of his letter. And then he adds: ‘all of you….’ Do you see that? So, this is a summary, a rounding off for every member of the church. So, before he was addressing those who worked and those who are married. But now, he’s addressing everyone: whether you work in the workplace or whether you work at home as a housewife or whether you work at school or college as a student or whether you’re unemployed or whether you’re retired or whatever you are; whether you’re married, or single, or widowed or whatever. This summary, this rounding off, is for you. And so, what does Peter say in this summary?
Well, in verse 8, he’s writing about how we’re to treat our fellow believers. In verse 9, he’s writing about how we’re to respond when unbelievers revile us. And in verses 10 to 12 he quotes from the book of Psalms to reinforce what he’s been saying. So, let’s see what he says.
And he mentions five things in verse 8: five qualities or virtues which we’re to possess and practice. So, be in harmony with one another; or ‘have unity of mind’, as other translations put it. Be sympathetic. Love as brothers [and sisters]. Be compassionate. Be humble.
These five qualities are arranged in a particular order, because the first and the last are to do with how we think: we’re to have unity of mind; and we’re to think of ourselves with humility. Well, think of two orchestras: one where the musicians are in harmony with one another, so that each player is reading from the same music sheet; and they’re playing their part at the right time; and they’re playing in time with one another and in harmony with one another. And the result is music! But then none of the musicians in the other orchestra are reading from the same music sheet; and so, they’re not playing their part at the right time; and one of them is going fast, and another is going slow; one is playing loudly and another is too quiet. What’s the result? Well, it’s a cacophony, a noise! Well, the church should be like that first orchestra, because we should all be playing from the same music sheet — though in the case of the church, what we’re following is the word of the Lord, for the Lord has given us his word to guide us in what we’re to believe and in what we’re to do. And so, we should be following his word, learning from him. And whenever we do that, we’ll be in harmony with one another, believing the right things, treating one another in the right way.
But, of course, that takes humility. It takes humility, because instead of everyone regarding himself or herself as the conductor of the orchesta, we’ll see ourselves as players who need one another and who are relying on one another and who are following the lead of the Lord, who is the only head of the church.
So, those are the first and the fifth virtues we’re to possess and practice. The second and fourth virtues are to do with our feelings towards others: we’re to be sympathetic and compassionate towards one another. To be sympathetic means that we rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep. And to be compassionate means we care for one another and we respond and we react to one another and we treat one another with a tender heart, instead of with a hard heart. The person with a hard heart looks at the suffering of another person, and is not moved by it. But the person with a tender and compassionate heart is moved by the suffering of others and wants to do something to help.
So, there’s unity in mind and there’s humility; and there’s sympathy and compassion. And all of these are summed up by the virtue in the middle of the list: love as brothers [and sisters]. God has graciously brought us into his family so that we have the privilege of calling him our Father; the Lord Jesus Christ is our elder brother; and all who are brought into God’s family through faith in Christ are bound together as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Well now, think of the relationship between siblings who love one another deeply and how they’re bound together, even though they’re grown up and it’s been years since they lived together in the family home. But still, after all those years, there’s this genuine concern and interest in one another. If one of the siblings is in trouble, the others do what they can to help; they’re upset when one of their siblings is unwell; they’re heartbroken when one dies. Maybe this is the way it is in your own family. Or maybe you wish this was the way your family really was. Well, this is the way it ought to be in God’s family: loving and caring for one another deeply which means we’ll be in harmony with one another and we’ll be humble towards one another; and we’ll be sympathetic with one another, and compassionate to one another. And a watching world will see us and they’ll think to themselves: What a difference there is between those Christians and the rest of us. We fight and argue with one another. But look how they’re interested in each other and how they care for one another. What makes them like this? What makes them like this?
And so, do you see? We’re to live such good lives among our unbelieving neighbours that they will see our good deeds and how we treat one another in the church. And who know? Who knows? They too might come to glorify God and worship him with us, because they’ve been won over to the faith and they’ve been attracted to the Saviour by the sheer goodness of our lives which have come to reflect the glory and the goodness of heaven.
So, that’s how we’re to treat our fellow believers. Verse 9 is about how we’re to respond when unbelievers revile us. And it’s very simple, isn’t it? Peter writes:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
Now, remember that Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering for their faith. Back in chapter 1, for instance, he wrote about how, for a little while, they were suffering grief in all kinds of trials. And in the next passage in chapter 3 and on into chapter 4 he’ll say more about suffering as a believer. And no doubt Peter’s first readers were often reviled and insulted and criticised and mistreated because of what they believed and because of the life they were trying to live in the midst of an ungodly nation.
So, how should they respond whenever someone mistreated them or insulted them? Should they punch their enemies on the nose? Should they insult them right back? That’s how people often respond: when insulted, they respond with an insult; when they’re pushed, they push back; when they’re thumped, they thump back. But we’re not to be like that. Believers should not repay evil for evil and insult for insult, because God has called us to repay evil and insult with a blessing. Instead of cursing our enemies, we should bless them, which means we should seek to do them good.
One of the commentators gives a marvellous illustration of this. And this is apparently a true story which one of her students told her. A Christian soldier was living in a barracks with his unit. Each evening, he would read his Bible and pray before settling down to sleep. And the other soldiers used to laugh and jeer at him while he did his devotions. Well, one night a pair of muddy boots came flying across the room and hit him. And no doubt, everyone thought this was really funny. But here’s the thing: the next morning, the soldier who had thrown his boots at this Christian found his boots sitting at the end of his bed, cleaned and polished and ready for inspection. That’s what Peter is talking about: the Christian soldier didn’t repay evil with evil, but with good. A man threw his boots at him; and he didn’t throw them back; instead he cleaned them for his enemy.
But, of course, that’s not the end of the story, because in the end several soldiers in that unit became believers, because, you see, that Christian solider lived a good life among them. And they saw his good deeds and the way he treated those who reviled him, and they were won over to the faith; and they began to glorify the Lord and to worship him. And that’s the way we’re to be, and that’s the kind of person the Lord has called us to be.
Verses 10 to 12
In the follow verses, Peter quotes from Psalm 34 to reinforce what he’s been saying, because the psalmist reminds us that we’re to keep our tongue from evil. So, instead of giving in to the temptation to revile and insult those who have reviled and insulted us, we’re to put a guard on our mouth so that we will not say anything evil to them.
And we’re to keep our tongue from deceitful speech. So, just as we’re to resist every temptation to revile and insult, so we’re to resist every temptation to lie or to deceive.
And the believer must turn away from evil so that we have nothing to do with it, but will run away from it whenever it appears. I remember my aunt used to own some smelling salts. You know what smelling salts are for? They used to be used to awaken people who had fainted. You put it under their noses, and whatever was in the smelling salts, it made them wake up almost immediately. But if anyone has ever put some of it under your nose, then your natural reaction, your immediate reflex, is to turn your face away. And that’s the way we’re to be: turning away immediately from anything evil. And instead of doing evil, we’re to do only good, just like our Heavenly Father who is good to all. Isn’t that what the Lord Jesus said about him? In Matthew 5, when he tells us to love our enemies, he said that that our Father in heaven causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on all kinds of people, the evil as well as the good. Well, since our loving Heavenly Father does good to all, so should we do good to all.
And then, we’re to seek peace. Isn’t that an interesting expression? Peace can be so elusive, so hard to find and to keep, that we need to seek it and pursue it. If you walk around the halls, you’ll see lots of mouse traps, because there are some mice about which are proving hard to find and to catch. Well, peace is hard to find and it’s hard to hold on to. And so, believers need to seek it and pursue it with determination. We’re to do whatever is in our power to live at peace with other people, including our enemies. And part of that means we will not repay evil for evil and insult for insult, but instead we will repay evil and insult with a blessing.
And look at how the psalmist encourages us at the end of the quotation. He says:
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
So, if we seek to do what is right — so that instead of repaying evil with evil and insult with insult, we will repay evil and insult with a blessing — if we seek to do what is right, then we can be confident that the Lord will watch over us and will hear and answer our prayers. So, when people are reviling us and insulting us and hurting us, when everyone else is against us, we can look to him, for the help we need.
That’s the way we’re to be. That’s what the Lord is calling us to be and to do. The trouble is: we find it so hard to be like this, don’t we? When someone insults us, we want to insult them back. When someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back. And in the church, we so often fall out; and instead of being sympathetic, we’re impatient with one another; instead of being compassionate, we’re selfish; instead of being humble towards one another, we’re think we’re better than everyone else. Peter describes the way we ought to be, but we find it hard to be like this.
And so, if I ended the sermon here, we’d go away depressed and miserable, because we know we’re not like this. But that’s not the end of the sermon, because we need to remember that there is one person who lived this kind of life and he lived it perfectly. Think of what the Apostle Paul said about the Lord Jesus in Philippians 2 and how the Eternal Son of God, who being in very nature God, made himself nothing. In other words, he humbled himself; he humbled himself and came down to earth as a man. And then, throughout the gospels, we see his perfect sympathy and his compassion and his love for the people he met. Think of how he welcomed all who came to him, confessing their need, and how he healed them and helped them and showed them compassion again and again. And then, think about him in the Garden of Gethsemane. When he was thinking about the suffering to come, he prayed to his Father in heaven to ask for the cup of suffering to be taken from him. But how did he finish his prayer? He said: ‘Yet not my will, but yours be done.’ And so we see the way he united his mind to what his Father in heaven wanted. And then, when the Lord Jesus was being beaten and crucified by the Roman soldiers, he prayed and asked his Father in heaven, not to harm those soldiers, but to forgive them. And so, instead of repaying evil with evil and insult with insult, he repaid their evil with good.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the one person who has done everything that the Apostle Peter is writing about here. But here’s the thing: According to Psalm 34, which Peter quotes here, the face of the Lord is against all who do evil. The face of God is against all who do evil. Well, on the cross, God’s face turned against his Son in wrath and judgment. Why was that, since he never did anything wrong and only ever did what was right? Why did God turn his face against his Son? It was because, on the cross, all the guilt for all the evil we have ever done was placed on Christ; and in that moment when God the Father turned his face against his Son in wrath and judgment, in that moment, God was punishing him for our sins. The Lord Jesus never did anything wrong; but on the cross, the guilt of our sins was placed on him; and he took the blame for us; and he suffered the punishment we deserve. And so now, when God looks at all those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his death for sinners, he doesn’t see our sin and disobedience, but he sees the perfect goodness and righteousness and obedience of his Son. And he therefore looks upon us in love, and not in anger. And so, his eyes are on us, but not to judge us and not to condemn us; but to love us.
And so, through faith in Christ, we find peace with God. And more than that — how can there be more! — more than that, the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus Christ, who never did anything wrong, but who did everything right, fills us with his Spirit. And his Spirit, living in all who believe, is at work to renew us in Christ’s image and to enable us to be and to do what Peter says we should be and to do. He enables us to be in harmony with one another; and to be sympathetic to one another; and to love one another; and to be compassionate to one another; and to be humble with one another; he enables to repay evil and insult with blessing; he enables us to turn from evil and to do good; he enables us to seek peace and to pursue it. The Lord Jesus Christ gives us his Spirit to make us like him, so that our lives here on earth will reflect the glory and the goodness of heaven, which is where we really belong.